Barra de Navidad … is this Mexico … at last?
Let me preface this with what I have said before … you bring a lot of baggage to Mexico. This may include what you think Mexico ‘should be’ or ‘will be’ like. With that said, we are asking ourselves if Barra de Navidad is not very close, or closer than we have yet seen, to the Mexico we came to see.
I will do at least three posts on this stop. One on Barra de Navidad, which is this one. A second post on Melaque, because any visit here of more than a day or two is absolutely incomplete without seeing both. And, a final post about an area called the ‘canals’, which are in Barra. I may also add a post on the fishermen and water taxis, since this place is very unique in both of these lifestyles.
BARRA de NAVIDAD
Used by the Spanish, who arrived on a Christmas Day, 1523, hence the name “Christmas Sandbar”, as a place to repair and build ships in the new world. Sailing vessels have been running aground here since then. Most cruisers know it as a place notorious for running your boat aground in the soft mud. Modern GPS and a certain guidebook with way points added have mostly taken the adventure out of entrance to the lagoon. Now most don’t sail in, they navigate in.
One blog I read called it a town of ship builders and buccaneers. I liked that description.
No narrative would be complete without talking about the Grand Bay Resort and Marina called alternately, used to be the Ritz Carleton Hotel Grand Bay Isla Navidad Marina, Puerto Navidad which includes the lagoon, and the Hotel Marina.
160 or so slips with many occupied by Mexican-flagged boats for a change.
Make no mistake there are sport fishing boats here that dwarf a cruising sailboat. I will give you an example below.
This is the view from our hatch. It has holders for 40 poles not counting the two outriggers.
The marina is relatively new, well built, and comfortable. Like most marinas down here … it costs about twice what a slip in Oregon costs us.
The other boats here are either headed north or south. Boats arrive and leave on a daily basis. The morning radio net is difficult to maintain, because everyone is leaving. We are just arriving.
The marina is across the entrance to the lagoon from the town. So, the only way to get across is by pangas that are outfitted and built as ‘taxi acuatico’s’ or water taxis. The ride to the town (24 hours a day) costs 20 pesos for a round trip. 25 pesos if you are out in the anchorage. Channel 23 is entirely devoted to the water taxi business.
Once across, you get a return token, and set out on foot across the very small town. It has a population of perhaps 7,000 people or so.
Superficially, the town is adapted to the business of surfing, hotel, sailing, fishing, and eating. Most of the larger businesses serve these interests. Do not interpret this to mean … serving North Americans … historically, this is a vacation and beach-going site for Jalisco and Colima. The hotel and businesses are for Mexicans on vacation. But, they serve a sailing, surfer, and retired ex-patriot population as well.
First and foremost, it is a small Mexican town. We are arriving as the sailing season ends and summer begins. Their peak season is apparently November thru April.
This is a town that you can easily walk in half to three quarters of a day. It is a gem. You can see everything from a person riding a mule to a modern health club –sometimes in the same frame of a picture.
The rest of the town is small tiendas or businesses selling fish, or meat, or nuts, or vegetables and fruits, or ice, or water. Notice that I did not say selling all of the above. Each business has a specialty. There are more modern enterprises like Kioskos or the ever present XOXOs. Both something like a 7-11 and with about as much personality.
Grade schools, but no school buses. Land taxis but only between towns. Bigger buses than La Paz collectivos but only 7 pesos to go between the two towns. That is 55 cents for a bus ride that takes 30 minutes and covers 4 miles or so.
There are bigger buses at a station that go to Guadalajara and Manzanillo. Manzanillo costs 53 pesos for the ‘economico’ class ride. It is curtained, has nicer seats than an airline, overhead storage like a plane, curtained windows, and a free movie. It arrives at a bus station in Manzanillo that is designed and operates like an airport. I love mass transit down here. Trip takes 35-45 minutes one way.
In Barra, there is a town plaza. Seems every small town in Mexico has a real plaza that gets used. This one becomes a covered market on certain days along with a couple of streets. It took about an hour to convert the plaza and streets into the bazaar of street fair or whatever you want to call it. We found a pound of shelled pecans … score!
The other place you immediately find is a large tree with an attached restaurant. It is a pizza place and bar but I liken it to ‘home tree’ in Avatar. It shows up in a Google map as blocking from above twin streets at an intersection. It is nostalgic, beautiful, whimsical, and considering the sun … immenently practical.
It also seems the center of morning life as the town stirs.
Back as the marina. Morning begins with a true treat. The waterborne “French Baker”. We heard this on the morning radio at 9:00 am. It’s a floating business, like the water taxis–only the French Baker’s wares taste better.
Ok. I have to admit that this part is not what we were looking for … but, after months without real bread? OMG ! (to steal a line from the news at AOL).
Like so many things I see here, this place resonates with my youth which was spent in South East Asia. It is tropical, has coconut trees, hot, humid. beautiful and peaceful … once you get away from the Americans. As Americans, we tend to carry our illness with us as we travel. We are busy, need schedules, make lists, shop in an organized manner … all this, while ostensibly ‘vacationing’ or ‘cruising’ Mexico. The neverending search for a bargain, a deal, a person who will work cheap … a call home to ‘close the deal’ while we sit on the john. If you can get away from those with this illness, you start to slow down. Life assumes a pace more reminiscent of grandma’s house than Walmart at Christmas time.
So, what is it we are looking for? A place with a harbor or bay or lagoon with no Chedraui, Mega, ACE, Home Depot, Walmart, Sam’s Club, Office Depot, or City Club. It has no Blockbuster (not even sure if it has a movie place) … no Pizza Hut … no Burger King or Dairy Queen. When you talk with cruisers, these topics of conversation about the availability of American stores, or American supplies frequently come up. Many cruiser guides list the attractions of a port or anchorage by how close it is to these types of stores.
The Mexico we are looking for is much more ‘rural’. It echos a society of an earlier time. That kind of time is passing into obscurity even in Mexico as it ‘modernizes’.
I will give you an example. Tonight. In the anchorage near this small town, it is incredibly beautiful …you can actually see the Milky Way, just like when we were kids. Went out and sat on the deck midships for almost an hour just looking up … like a kid. Listened to the pounding of the surf, which by the way is incredible here, like thunder and listened to the splashing of the small fish in the lagoon, watched the bio-luminescent shrimp and fish chase each other. Peed and the tiny luminescent shrimp scattered, making sparklies in the dark water off the side of the boat.
We wonder how long this will last … we are glad we are here now ! Is it possible for cruisers to visit or stay in places like this without changing them forever? How little of a footprint can you leave?
There is already activity to dredge the channel and lagoon and dig a new marina. Are cruisers causing this? Are we?
I actually know the answer to this question … no WE are not. Some developer either saw or has seen an opportunity to make money. More is always better. Especially at these prices. I always wonder if the local workers and farmers share in the great wealth that these developments generate. I know the answer to that as well.
The dredge is here for a year. It will widen the channel, dredge the lagoon, and (we think) make a channel to the ‘to be built’ second marina on the other side of the golf course. But for now, there are no nightclub drums in the night, no Brittany pounding out “Do it again!”
Roosters wake us to the new day each morning. One crows, then another, and another … like ripples in a pond, the still waters of the lagoon stir. We rise from sleep rested and watch the day unfold.
Not a bad way to live.